A decade of driving on the right side of the road had my parents worried about me getting behind the wheel in Malaysia. Here, we drive on the left.
“Can still remember the roads ah? Will you be disoriented or not? Later drive on the wrong side then kena accident, then how? And do you know how to drive Dad’s old Volvo?”
Valid questions. But my pride wouldn’t let them know that. I’m a grown woman now, for goodness sake.
“I’ll be fine, I learned how to drive here in Malaysia,” I said with a tone of exasperation. “Of course I know how to handle a car, been driving for over ten years. I’ve even driven a full-size SUV in America, something none of you have ever done.”
Still, they insisted on test driving with me just to be sure, and obviously I passed. They were so pleased, they even let me drive one of the newer cars in the house, but only for “special occasions.” New or old car didn’t really matter; as long as I had one to use, I was getting this much closer to regaining full autonomy of my daily life!
At least, I thought it didn’t matter.
Last Thursday was my first chance to use my “newly-approved” driver status, as I had business to tend to in Mont Kiara. Jumped into Dad’s 20-year-old, emerald green S70 Volvo and sped off. I had Waze, a navigation app on my iPhone showing me the route. It led me through my neighbourhood without a hitch and transitioned onto the LDP just as easily.
My car woes began as I exited the LDP to link up with Sprint Highway. On the ramp, I began hearing an ugly rattling coming from the engine and felt the car rapidly losing acceleration power. Uh-oh. Hoping wildly (and fruitlessly) that the problem was simply that I was driving an old car uphill and things would now go back to normal, you can imagine how dismayed I was when the Volvo started sputtering white smoke and abruptly gave up.
I had come to a standstill right in the middle of a busy highway, during morning rush hour.
What in the world was I to do? wtf wtf wtf. After making such a point to declare my fullest independence, I loathed having to call the parents. Even though I’d eventually have to, I wanted to leave them out of this for now.
A car behind me had stopped, and from my side mirror I could see the driver approaching. He came to offer a ride to the Petronas fuel station just barely a few feet away (if only the Volvo had made it there.) The driver was being helpful, as he’d been in the same type of dilemma before, and I was grateful I didn’t have to worry about becoming splattered roadkill while attempting to cross a highway full of speeding cars.
But this damn Volvo. I could not find the button for the blinkers. I’m not stupid, because the driver of the other car couldn’t either. He then said I should leave the boot (trunk) open to alert oncoming cars of an inert vehicle in the middle of a highway. And here’s the confounding thing. This damn boot also would not open! It was the right key but it just wouldn’t budge.
Why the heck was nothing working for me this morning? I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the Volvo alone with no way to warn other drivers of a stalled car. I was in total despair.
Luckily, a Sprint patroller appeared and parked his motorbike behind the Volvo once the other driver left. By now, traffic was filling up all four lanes, with the usual Nosey Parkers slowing down to ogle at the mess. I imagine they were sorely disappointed, maybe even felt slightly cheated, to see it was merely an old car with a faulty water pipe (as I later discovered,) stalled on the highway.
The lack of a show-stopping wreckage was made up for when Pak Lah, the dedicated Sprint patroller decided to take matters into his own hands. He was going to single-handedly push my Dad’s Volvo to the shoulder–across three lanes full of traffic.
“Wait. What?” I stared at him, incredulous.
“You jangan tekan brek, biar saya pindah kereta you ke sebelah kiri. Pasang ‘N’ saja, boleh?” (Don’t hit the brakes, I’ll move the car to the left shoulder. Just put it on Neutral, ok?)
Okay. Still unsure how Pak Lah was going to direct traffic and move the car at the same time, I rolled with it, literally. Once I was back in the driver’s seat, the thin and wiry Pak Lah began pushing the car backwards with all his might, towards the shoulder and into oncoming traffic. Panicking, I hit the brakes.
“JANGAN TEKAN BREK!” roared Pak Lah. “Lepaskan, lepaskan!”
With reluctance, I released my foot from the brake pedal.
Miraculously, no one crashed into us. No furious honking from anyone. Middle fingers were not flashed as cars whizzed past. In fact, folks seemed to grasp what was going on and were either slowing down or veering towards the free lanes. A lorry came by and stopped; the driver got out to help Pak Lah in pushing and soon, the Volvo was safely on the side of the highway. I was also relieved to no longer be holding up traffic on Sprint for something so unglamorous as driving an old man car with a busted water pipe.
Now we were just waiting for the tow truck to arrive. And it wasn’t my fault that an old car broke down, so even the parents could have absolutely nothing to say. End of story, right?
The tow truck driver turned up, hitched my car up and mumbled something about keeping the gear on “N.” He had a blurred look in his eyes seemed to be in a hurry, and he was. Without warning, the Volvo lurched forward with me still in the car, and it was swaying from side to side as the tow driver hightailed it like a damn madman towards the Petronas station. I managed to steer to keep the car straight till we got there, but when the tow truck braked unexpectedly, there was a split moment that my car once again lurched forward–before I could brake–and smashed into the back of the tow truck, shattering the right headlight.
I would have lost it but Pak Lah, who’d been following us, beat me to it. He yelled at the man for his reckless driving. Scolded him for being irresponsible. Threatened to report him and rescind his contractor status with Sprint. Despite being red-eyed and confused, the tow guy was defiant. After insisting it was my fault I didn’t brake in time, he scrambled back into his truck and drove off in the same manner as he had when towing my car. (Pak Lah gave me the phone number of the tow guy’s boss and the truck’s plate number.)
It’s quite compelling that within a half hour, I’d experienced both ends of the human spirit. The kindness of Mr. First Driver, and the kindness of Mr. Lorry Driver (in helping push my car to the side,) both of whom could’ve simply thought, “I’m late,” driven past and carried on with their day. And Pak Lah, the Sprint patroller who showed outstanding dedication to his job that morning. I’m glad for folks like them who prove that KL-ites aren’t such a selfish and cynical bunch.
As for you, Tow Truck Guy, for your harmful indifference, the expensive damage you did to my car and for giving my parents a reason to once again second guess my ability to travel around the so-called dangerous roads of Kuala Lumpur on my own:–
I curse you. Like Mahsuri cursed Langkawi with seven generations of bad luck, I curse
seven five generations of your wretched progeny to a lifetime of failed drivers tests! Should you bribe your way into getting a license, it shall rapidly be suspended for every reason possible under the Malaysian sun. Let’s see how you like being condemned to a vehicle-less life, in KL!
In the end, all I really could do was call up his tow company boss to complain. Poor Dad was sad to see his beloved old Volvo (men and their cars) damaged, but I give them credit for not giving the “I told you so” talk when they arrived to pick me up from Petronas. Mum was quick to point out that I needed a reliable car and she’d temporarily make hers available till I got my own. Good ol’ Mum and Dad.